The modern 3-point seat belt was created by Swedish inventor Nils Bohlin, who was a safety engineer for car manufacturer Volvo. His creation was first fitted as a standard item to the Volvo 122 in 1959, after which the company made the patent available to other car manufacturers for free.
Australia was the first country to mandate the wearing of seat belts. While all British cars manufactured after 1967 had to have seat belts fitted, it took twelve attempts for legislation to be passed through parliament to make it a requirement to actually wear them.
Figures released at the time placed the number of road deaths in Britain at 6,000. William Rodgers, who served as the Secretary of State for Transport in the previous government, claimed that wearing seat belts could have saved upwards of 1,000 of these lives. Yet even in the face of these figures, which were not widely disputed, critics of the new law accused the government of infringing on personal freedoms and operating a nanny state.
The government, along with organisations such as the Automobile Association and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, invested heavily in pre-legislation advertising campaigns. These are believed to have increased the voluntary seat belt wearing rate to around 50%, while surveys conducted in the days after the law came into force showed that over 90% of people were now wearing them. The penalty for not doing so was a £50 fine.
The first year of the law also saw the number of road deaths drop by nearly 500 and, having been trialled for three years, the compulsory wearing of seat belts was made permanent in 1986.
On the 26th January 1998, United States President Bill Clinton appeared at a White House press conference and made a forceful statement that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”. The woman was Monica Lewinsky, a 22-year-old White House employee, and the affair and subsequent investigation led to the President’s impeachment on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. A year later the Senate voted to acquit him on both articles.
In 1992 Clinton defeated George H. W. Bush to become the 42nd President of the United States. Two years after he became President, Arkansas state employee Paula Jones filed a sexual harassment case regarding an alleged incident that occurred in 1991 when Clinton was Governor of Arkansas.
Monica Lewinsky secured an unpaid summer White House internship in 1995, but moved to a paid position in December. Her affair with Clinton began a month beforehand, in November. Lewinsky later stated that over the next 18 months they had nine sexual encounters, some within the Oval Office itself.
By April 1996 Lewinsky had been moved to The Pentagon, where she confided in co-worker Linda Tripp about the affair. Tripp began recording their phone calls and in January 1998 handed the tapes to an Independent Counsel after Lewinsky submitted an affidavit denying any physical relationship with Clinton as part of the Paula Jones case. Following the appearance of the tapes, Clinton stated in the news conference that he “did not have sexual relations” with Lewinsky. Seven months elapsed before he was called before a grand jury, where he admitted they had had a relationship that was “not appropriate”.
Pietro Leopoldo, the ruler of Tuscany, came to power in 1765 after his father, the Holy Roman Emperor Francis I, died. Pietro Leopoldo later became Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II, but in the years immediately after his father’s death his mother Maria Theresa co-ruled the empire with his elder brother Joseph II. After five years Leopold successfully obtained a free hand to rule Tuscany as he liked after he travelled to Vienna where his mother agreed to remove her appointed counsellors.
Leopold was an enlightened ruler who revitalised Tuscany’s economy through the introduction of new rates of taxation and the creation of public works projects. His habit of spending revenues on improving the state was in sharp contrast to the government of the Medici family who had preceded his father, but had a broadly positive impact on Tuscany’s financial position.
A year before Leopold came to power in Tuscany, the Italian Enlightenment writer Cesare Beccaria condemned torture and the death penalty in his famed treatise On Crimes and Punishments. The book, which proposed radical reform of the criminal system, influenced Leopold to stop signing death warrants and after 1769 no executions took place in Tuscany.
On 30 November 1786 Leopold formally abolished the death sentence as well as banning the use of torture. All instruments used for administering the death penalty were also destroyed. The day is now celebrated as Cities for Life Day on which numerous cities around the world show their commitment to the abolition of the death penalty.
Prior to the adoption of universally accepted time zones, the vast majority of settlements around the world observed local mean solar time. Because of variations in geographical longitude, this meant that different towns and cities had slightly differing time standards. Although Greenwich Mean Time had been established in 1675 to help mariners navigate at sea, no law existed to mandate its use for local time.
The arrival of the railways in the mid-19th Century increased the need for a standardised time across the network, since local time would differ in all the towns the train visited. In Great Britain, Greenwich Mean Time was first adopted by the Great Western Railway and it is estimated that by 1855 up to 98% of all public clocks in the country displayed Greenwich Mean Time.
The use of a standard time in Britain was, however, not mandated by law. It was the New Zealand government that first introduced such legislation in order to allow the easier synchronisation of railways, steam ships, and the electric telegraph. Having consulted with Scottish-born scientist and explorer James Hector, the government adopted his recommendation of a time zone based on New Zealand’s mean longitude 172° 30′ east of Greenwich. Originally established at 11½ hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, New Zealand Mean Time was adopted on 2 November 1868.
Britain eventually implemented a standardised national time in 1880, while the U.S. Congress passed the Standard Time Act on 19 March 1918.
The Metropolitan Police, which is often considered to be the first modern police force, began operating in London.
Informally known as ‘the Met’, the Metropolitan Police Act 1829 established the first structured system of law enforcement. Policing had previously been the responsibility of unpaid parish constables, although paid ‘thief-takers’ were sometimes employed by the victims of crime to catch criminals.
The appointment of Sir Robert Peel as Home Secretary in 1822 brought about the reinvigoration of a committee tasked to investigate the current system of policing. Peel immediately acted upon the committee’s findings, distilling the key aspects of his approach into a series of ‘Peelian principles’ that involved the payment of police officers who were organised along civilian lines.
Peel’s ideas for the system of policing were approved by Parliament in the Metropolitan Police Act with Royal Assent being granted on 19 June 1829. The 895 constables of the new force, nicknamed ‘Peelers’ or ‘Bobbies’ after their founder, were responsible for law enforcement and public order within a seven-mile radius of Charing Cross. They were overseen by a progressing hierarchy of Sergeants, Inspectors, Superintendents and two Commissioners who reported directly to Peel himself.
Deliberately given blue uniforms to distinguish them from the red used by the military, the first police officers were equipped with only a wooden truncheon and a ratcheted rattle to raise the alarm. Despite these attempts to avoid the image of a totalitarian police force, some members of the public argued that the Met was a threat to civil liberties. Within a decade, however, the force had begun to prove itself and its powers were increased.
On the 18th August 1612, the trials of nine Lancashire women and two men known as the Pendle Witches began. Accused of various murders, twelve people were charged of whom was found not guilty and another died in prison before going to trial. The other ten were found guilty and executed by hanging.
The trials of the Lancashire witches are not only some of the most famous, but also some of the best recorded witch trials in British history. This is due to a published account called The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster by Thomas Potts, the clerk to the Lancaster Assizes where all but one of the trials took place.
One of the most interesting things about the trial is that the majority of the defendants self-identified as witches, or at least as village healers who practised what they referred to as ‘magic’ in return for payment. A number of the accused even admitted to Roger Nowell, the justice of the peace for Pendle and chief prosecutor at the trials, that witchcraft had been practised by a number of people in the area around Pendle Hill for many years.
In historical terms, the Pendle Witch trials were significant for their scale. Despite a popular belief that witch trials were a common occurrence in the early modern period, only around 500 people were executed for witchcraft throughout the 300 year period when they were carried out. This means that the ten found guilty in Pendle represented an astounding 2% of all British witches to face trial during the period.
On the 16th August 1819, the Peterloo Massacre occurred at St Peter’s Field in Manchester when a group of over 60,000 protesters were charged by cavalry. An estimated 15 people died, and approximately 700 others were injured.
The protesters had gathered to hear the radical speaker Henry Hunt demand parliamentary and social reform. Britain was caught in the midst of economic depression and the textile industry, concentrated in the industrial centres of northern England, was particularly badly hit. Factory owners cut wages by as much as two-thirds which, combined with the increased price of grain due to the Corn Laws that imposed tariffs on cheaper imports, led to workers facing famine as they could no longer afford to buy food.
They also lacked political representation. The millions of people who lived in the Lancashire mill towns were represented by just two Members of Parliament due to out-of-date constituency boundaries and, due to the limitations of voting rights, they weren’t eligible to vote anyway. These inequalities became a target for radicals, who quickly gained working class support.
Contemporary accounts say that the crowds were peaceful and in good spirits when they assembled on the morning of the 16th August. However, the chairman of the magistrates was concerned by the enthusiastic reception when Henry Hunt arrived, the ordered the local Yeomanry to arrest him. Caught in the crowd, the cavalry began hacking with their sabres. The melee was interpreted by the magistrates as the crowd attacking the yeomanry, and more cavalry were sent in. The crowd dispersed within ten minutes, but eleven people died on the field.
On the 1st August 1834, the Slavery Abolition Act came into force in the United Kingdom, although it had received royal assent a year earlier. The Act outlawed slavery throughout the British Empire, although there were some exceptions such as in areas controlled by the East India Company.
Although Parliament had outlawed the slave trade itself in the Slave Trade Act of 1807, that Act only served to stop the creation of new slaves. It did not address the issue of existing slaves working in the colonies. It was these existing slaves that the new Act sought to address, and although it did abolish slavery the impact took a long time to be felt.
A key problem facing the government was what to do with the former slaves. The Act addressed this issue by stating that former slaves over the age of six became ‘apprentices’ and continued to work on largely the same plantations in largely the same conditions as before. Many of them were only fully emancipated six years later in 1840.
The former slave owners themselves were also dealt with in the Slavery Abolition Act. It’s important to remember that the Act effectively stripped slave-owners of their property. The logic therefore went that the slave-owners needed to be compensated for their loss of property, so the Act established the Slave Compensation Commission who awarded the equivalent of £17bn in today’s money – funded by the taxpayer – to 46,000 slave owners. A searchable online database of every slave-owner who was awarded compensation is available to view at https://www.ucl.ac.uk/lbs/
Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria signed the Reinheitsgebot, a law to ensure the purity of beer that specific a limited number of ingredients.
The early 1500s experienced economic and agricultural tensions which saw brewers and bakers competing to purchase grain to produce their goods. In an effort to avoid price inflation, the Reinheitsgebot consequently limited brewers to only use barley while wheat and rye were exclusively made available to bakers for bread.
The original purity law was signed in Ingolstadt and stated that beer brewed in Bavaria could only contain barley, hops and water. As the political situation in Germany changed over the subsequent centuries the Reinheitsgebot continued to be a central piece of legislation. Its pan-German implementation was even a prerequisite for Bavaria joining the German Empire in 1871. The strict nature of the law meant that it has often met opposition from some German brewers leading to some adaptations. These include recognising that yeast is required for fermentation, and permitting malted ‘grains’ rather than just barley to be used.
Despite the subsequent changes, some people have blamed the Reinheitsgebot for the lack of diversity in German beers. As recently as 2016 the German daily newspaper Der Spiegel criticised the law for denying brewers the opportunity to experiment with new ingredients and styles. Consequently some breweries have begun to create brews that don’t follow the law, but they are not allowed to call them ‘beer’.
Meanwhile the Reinheitsgebot continues to have a number of supporters, and German beers brewed to its specifications have the status of a protected traditional foodstuff under European Union law.
On the 22nd March 1621, Dutch legal scholar Hugo Grotius – also known as Hugo de Groot – escaped imprisonment in Loevestein Castle concealed inside a book chest. He had been given a life sentence for treason against Prince Maurice, the executive and military leader of the United Provinces, after the Prince orchestrated a coup d’état. Once outside the castle he then fled to Paris, apparently disguised as a mason, where he lived in exile.
Grotius is known as one of the founding fathers of international law for his written work in such masterpieces as “On the Law of War and Peace” and “The Freedom of the Seas” that applied natural law to international politics. Even as a teenager his intellectual ability had been noted by King Henry IV of France who referred to him as the “miracle of Holland”.
At the time, the United Provinces were engaged in an internal conflict between the tolerant Protestantism of the Remonstrants and the Counter-Remonstrants who advocated orthodox Calvinism. Shortly after the Counter-Remonstrant Prince Maurice launched a coup d’état in 1618 he ordered the arrest of the leaders of the Remonstrants, which included Grotius.
Grotius was permitted to have books sent to him in prison, which were transported in a large chest. Over time his guards became less vigilant regarding its contents, which led his wife and maid-servant to hatch a plan to smuggle him out by hiding him inside it. Having escaped his imprisonment, Grotius fled to France where he wrote his most famous works. He became Sweden’s ambassador to France in 1634 but died in 1645 after being shipwrecked.